Edmund Wilson Additional Biography


ph_0111206476-Wilson_E.jpg Edmund Wilson Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Edmund Wilson was an authentic man of letters, a rarity in the twentieth century. Primarily known as a literary critic, he was also a novelist, poet, playwright, historian, and social critic. Wilson was the son of a distinguished New Jersey attorney, a somewhat distant man who inculcated in his only son the virtues of decency and honor. The young man attended Hill School and Princeton University, where he became a close friend and adviser of the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald and the poet John Peale Bishop. After service in France during World War I, Wilson began a career as a writer and editor for various journals published in New York, including Vanity Fair, The New Republic, and, eventually, The New Yorker. The latter association began in 1943 and continued until his death.

Wilson was already a well-known critic when he published his book-length study of literary modernism, Axel’s Castle. The first such study to treat the Symbolist and Freudian elements in literature as significant and coherent, Axel’s Castle was an eloquent defense of such writers as James Joyce and Gertrude Stein as well as a clear exposition of their methods and achievements. During the same period of time, Wilson caused something of a scandal with his novel, I Thought of Daisy. Based loosely on the character of Wilson’s great early love, the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, I Thought of Daisy chronicles the life and loves of what in the Roaring Twenties was called a flapper, a young woman who goes from one man to another in search of enjoyment with little regard for the future or for the consequences of her actions. The novel shared with his later work of fiction Memoirs of Hecate County a frankness about sex regarded as shocking at the time of its publication.

Wilson was not particularly interested in theories of criticism. He had been taught by his famed Princeton teacher Christian Gauss that literature, like all art, is the product of particular times and places, and that it is a critic’s job to explain literary works in terms of their relationship to the times that produced them. Wilson therefore regarded his interest in the ideas and the history of his time and of earlier times as essential aspects of his work. In the early 1930’s, he traveled widely in the United States, looking for the manifestations...

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Castronovo, David and Janet Groth. Critic in Love: A Romantic Biography of Edmund Wilson. Emeryville, CA: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005. A brief biography of Wilson that takes a look at his relationships with women, both intellectual and sexual.

Castronovo, David. Edmund Wilson. New York: F. Ungar, 1984. A thorough study of Wilson’s work, emphasizing his criticism.

Costa, Richard Hauer. Edmund Wilson: Our Neighbor from Talcottville. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1980. Gives insights into the warmth and capacity for friendship of a man often regarded as frighteningly brusque.

Dabney, Lewis M. Edmund Wilson: A Life in Literature. 1st ed. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2005. A meticulous account of Wilson’s life and the circumstances surrounding his writing.

Dabney, Lewis. “Edmund Wilson and The Wound and the Bow.” The Sewanee Review 91 (Winter, 1983). Examines Wilson’s critical study of writers and writing.

Dabney, Lewis, ed. Edmund Wilson: Centennial Reflections. Princeton, N.J.: Mercantile Library of New York in association with Princeton University Press, 1997. A collection of papers originally presented at two symposia held at the Mercantile Library of New York. Includes index.

Douglas, George H. Edmund Wilson’s America. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1983. Focuses attention on the author’s view of the relations between the American past and his own time.

Frank, Charles P. Edmund Wilson. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1970. Frank is critical about the limitations in Wilson’s literary criticism, but he barely touches on the social criticism.

Groth, Janet. Edmund Wilson: A Critic for Our Time. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1989. Focuses on Wilson’s criticism.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Edmund Wilson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995. A full-length biography.

Wain, John, ed. Edmund Wilson: The Man and His Work. New York: New York University Press, 1978. A collection of essays about the personal and professional sides of Wilson; it includes biographical essays by Alfred Kazin and Angus Wilson and critical articles by Larzer Ziff and John Wain.